Painting by Kat Vellos

Should creativity feel like a joyride or a hero’s journey?

Last night while reading a review of Instagram’s hot new collage-making app, Layout, I was stopped in my tracks by this quote by Instagram Product Manager, John Barnett: “Creation should be simple, intuitive and fun.”

Should it really? Should creation always be simple, intuitive and fun?

His quote reminded me of Brian Millar’s February Wired piece, “Why We Should Design Some Things to be Difficult to Use” in which he points out what we lose when things are too easy to use. Isn’t mastering a skill through trial, error and hard work, a part of what makes learning something new so valuable? Or as the coach played by Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own said, “If it was easy, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.” It also reminds of @amznjsn’s recent tweet: “There is absolutely nothing in this world like the feeling of sucking at something and then improving at it.”

As an artist and creative person who came of age when analog creativity was not the hipster way, but the ONLY way, I know firsthand that creation does not always feel simple, intuitive and fun. Sometimes creation feels quite the opposite: difficult, confusing, and really fucking hard.

When it’s hard, creation can feel like pawing your way through a dark room, clamoring in the darkness for something solid to hold on to, with a gut-wrenching uncertainty in the pit of your stomach, but steel-toed shoes of determination pushing you forward and eventually you emerge into the light. (Or ya scrap that idea and start a new one.)


When it’s hard, creation can feel like pawing your way through a dark room, clamoring in the darkness for something solid to hold on to.


Writer’s block can feel like a steel cage around your throat, as you attempt to claw words from the end of a dried-up pen that you’re gripping with hands that have suddenly been turned into shriveled up potatoes.

Conversely, in the presence of Flow, creating feels like a euphoric ride down a river of clouds, where you’re channeling everything magically wonderful in the universe and your synchronistic creation is a glowing, breathing celebration of the soul and life within you. Unicorns are showering you with Godiva truffles and everything is perfect.


In the presence of Flow, creating feels like a euphoric ride down a river of clouds. Unicorns are showering you with Godiva truffles and everything is perfect.


Trying to create in the absence of Flow is a frustrating, maddening, humbling experience. Probably not the kind of UX that any of us ever hope to invoke in our users. But somewhere, on the other side of that soul-shaking journey, there’s a crystalline, validating and liberating resolution.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that creativity has to always feel like a heart-rending challenge in order to produce something wondrous. But I do think that one of the core reasons that some of us still pursue the raw challenge of unguided creativity is not just for the victorious end result, but because of how the process of creating it changes us as people. That’s where the creation reaches its full dimension. The act of creativity is as much about creating a new version of yourself, as it is about the thing that you create.


The act of creativity is as much about creating a new version of yourself, as it is about the thing that you create.


If creation was always supposed to be simple, intuitive and fun, there would be no reason to step off the precipice into the unknown outcomes of a mysterious and new creative challenge.

So we risk, and we grow, and we keep reaching. Sometimes whiskey helps.

And we plow through page after page of sketches to finally unearth the shimmering, glimmering best idea 999 tries later. Would that moment of completion feel like such a triumph, and be so cherished, if it was only 2 taps away?

Do you see a difference between creation as pleasant pastime and creation as personal transformation? If so, exactly where on the journey do their two paths diverge?

#creation #creativity #design #art #ux #userexperience #growth

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